September 12, 2007

RALEIGH – Public school students in North Carolina face a growing number of course options, regardless of federal No Child Left Behind standards. That’s a key finding in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

“Fears that policy changes driven by No Child Left Behind would decimate the public-school curriculum in North Carolina appear to be unfounded,” said report author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “The data do not support the argument that an increased focus on reading and math proficiency forced public schools to shorten or eliminate instruction in other areas.”

The total number of public school courses grew from 450 to 500 between the 2000-2001 and 2005-2006 school years, Stoops said. “If that growth had been tied to new No Child Left Behind requirements, the numbers should reflect a growing number of courses supplementing language arts and mathematics instruction,” he said. “That’s not what the data show. In high school, most new courses allow students to pursue their interests in contemporary issues or to enhance their technical or vocational skills.”

New N.C. high school courses added since 2000 include African American Studies, E-Commerce, Human Geography, and Sports and Entertainment Marketing. Few North Carolinians realize that today’s public school systems teach more than the basics, Stoops said.

“Public schools offer a number of specialty courses that have traditionally been outside the purview of elementary, middle, and high schools,” Stoops said. “Churches used to be the place where students would learn how to ring handbells. Parents and community groups would teach folk art or cultural traditions that now fill some North Carolina classrooms. For years, only colleges would offer courses called Social Problems or Film Production.”

Stoops did find some subject areas with decreased enrollment. Elementary foreign language instruction and middle school health and physical education courses have been declining during the past five years, he said. The report offers details about the growth or decline in courses at the elementary, middle, and high school level.

Congress will start debate in the fall over reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind requirements. “That debate will involve a number of important issues, including accountability standards, funding, and state flexibility,” Stoops said. “But North Carolina data suggest there’s no reason for lawmakers to spend time complaining about the federal law’s impact on the state curriculum.”

Federal policy changes were perceived to be an affront to the state’s long-standing right to establish its own curriculum on its own terms, Stoops said. “The expansion of North Carolina’s course offerings and the growth of non-math and non-language arts courses suggest instead that the state is firmly in control of its curriculum,” he said. “North Carolina’s public-school students have more choices today than ever before, and they are pursuing their interests accordingly.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “Reading, Writing, and Handbells: Course Enrollment in the Era of No Child Left Behind,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].